10 Most Common School-Age Illnesses
August 20, 2021
One thing that concerns many parents as they send their kids back to school is all the common illnesses kids can catch. Not only do you hate to see them sick, but they often have to miss school which means you may have to miss work to care for them. Plus, there’s the risk that the illness may spread to the rest of the family, including you.
Some of these illnesses can be prevented by vaccines, while all you can do for others is take steps to lower your child’s risk of infection. Here’s some helpful information about 10 common school-age illnesses so you can feel a bit more prepared about what symptoms to watch for and how to respond.
1. Common Cold
Aptly named, the common cold is one of the most frequent illnesses children get at school. Colds are caused by viruses that are easily spread in close-contact environments like schools or daycares. Even though it is common, there is no cure for the common cold. You can, however, treat the symptoms with over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help manage with headaches, muscle aches, or fever. Aspirin should be avoided, as it is linked to a rare but serious disease called Reye’s syndrome when given to children and teens.
2. Stomach Flu
Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is caused by a virus and can spread rapidly. The symptoms of gastroenteritis are pretty obvious: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In spite of its name, the viruses that cause stomach flu are not related to influenza. Most cases of gastroenteritis will pass after a few days. Children and adults with gastroenteritis should get plenty of rest and replenish fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea. If symptoms persist for an extended period, you should speak with your doctor.
3. Strep Throat
Strep throat is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes that lives in the nose and throat. Symptoms are sore throat, swollen tonsils, fever, and stomach pain. Strep needs to be treated by prescription antibiotics after the diagnosis has been confirmed with a strep test at your doctor’s office.
4. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) can affect adults and children of all ages, but children under five years old are at the highest risk of contracting it. This highly infectious disease is marked by fever, sore throat, mouth and tongue ulcers, and blisters or a rash on the hands, feet, and mouth. Those infected also experience lethargy and loss of appetite.
Because of how contagious the illness is, the infected person or people should be isolated to prevent spread throughout the entire family. Talk to your doctor about how long your child will be contagious and when they can return to school.
Treatment for HFMD is mostly limited to rest, hydration and pain relief. Children often respond well to popsicles or iced drinks that can reduce pain while also providing hydration. If dehydration occurs, hospitalization for the administration of IV fluids may be required. When dealing with HFMD, it is important to maintain good hand hygiene as it can be spread through contact with infected saliva or fecal matter. You can’t completely avoid touching your child while they’re sick after all, so washing your hands thoroughly and often is important.
5. Pink Eye
The technical term for pink eye is conjunctivitis. Symptoms of conjunctivitis include eye redness, discharge, itchiness, and swelling. Causes vary, but contagious conjunctivitis is caused by either a bacteria or virus. Treatments can include antibiotics in the form of ointment or eye drops.
6. Head Lice
Lice are tiny parasites that get into the hair, feed on blood from the scalp, and lay eggs (nits) on the hair shafts near the scalp. Lice are very contagious but not dangerous. Symptoms aside from the presence of lice or nits include extreme itchiness on the head and small bumps or sores on the scalp caused by itching. Treatments include medicated shampoos and hair treatments and lotion that kills the lice. They may be purchased over the counter or your doctor may give you a prescription. Nits can be removed using a special fine-tooth comb after the treatment has been used. Clothing and bedding should also be decontaminated.
Commonly known as the flu, influenza is a virus that is easily spread through coughing and sneezing into the air. Symptoms include fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Typical cases do not require treatment aside from managing symptoms at home with medicine, rest, and fluids. If flu symptoms are severe or the child has other conditions that could complicate the flu, you should consult a doctor and sometimes hospitalization is necessary.
You can reduce the risks of getting the flu by making sure you and your family members get a flu vaccine each year. Because there are so many strains of influenza, getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu but can lower your risk for some common strains. Additionally, vaccination can help reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms.
Since the introduction of vaccines for the varicella virus (which causes chickenpox) in the 1980s, outbreaks of chickenpox have decreased. However, they can still occur. If your child has not been vaccinated they are at risk of infection.
Chickenpox causes a red, itchy, blistering rash all over the body. Other symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, loss of appetite, and body aches. There is no medication to treat the varicella virus, but symptoms can be treated to make your child more comfortable during the illness. Calamine and lotions or other itch-relief creams recommended by your doctor can help with itchiness, as can oatmeal baths. Acetaminophen can be given to relieve fever and headaches.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, which are the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is more common among college-aged children that live in dorms or communal housing than in school-age children. Most cases of meningitis in college students are caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Determining the cause is critical for determining how it is treated.
Students heading off to college should be up to date on their meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Many schools require proof that your child has been given the vaccine or booster within five years of enrollment. Even if your child’s school doesn’t require it, you should still make sure they are protected.
Sometimes called the “kissing disease,” mononucleosis (usually abbreviated and referred to as mono), is spread through contact with saliva. It is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and is highly contagious if you come into contact with someone carrying the virus. Mono is typically spread by kissing, coughing, sneezing, or other contact with saliva. Because kissing is one common way the illness is spread, it often occurs among older children in high school, but younger children can contract it through the other ways mentioned above.
Symptoms are similar to those of the flu but can persist longer in some cases. Those symptoms include fatigue, sore throat, fever and muscle aches.
Treatment for mono at home should include plenty of rest. Medicine may be prescribed or recommended to treat fever and pain. The Epstein-Barr virus weakens the immune system, so those with mono may be more susceptible to other illnesses on the list.
Schedule an Appointment
The team at Holly Springs Pediatrics is committed to open communication with patients and their families, so if you have questions or concerns about any of the illnesses listed above, don’t hesitate to call us at 919-249-4700 or request an appointment online.